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Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach

book cover of Fortune's Pawn

I came across this book after reading the first two instalments of the author’s DFZ series, Minimum Wage Magic and Part-Time Gods. This series was written earlier, under a different nom de plume, and belongs to a slightly different genre (action sci-fi as opposed to the dystopian science-fantasy mix of the DFZ series). There are definitely some similarities though – a young female protagonist doing a dangerous job, with the same writing style.

Fortune’s Pawn follows Deviana “Devi” Morris, an ambitious mercenary who accepts a security job on a notoriously dangerous ship to try to fast-track her path into some kind of elite paramilitary unit. Aboard, she meets an array of curious characters, including the devilishly handsome cook, Rupert, the ruthless captain with unclear objectives, Caldswell, and Caldswell’s quiet, chess-obsessed daughter, Ren. And of course, once the crew’s journey is underway, mysterious things start happening: on one stopover, Devi’s attacked by an invisible creature; aboard another ship, she falls under attack only to be saved by a mysterious black scaly alien; and she discovers that the video recordings her armour makes are being tampered with…

There are plenty of things that I enjoyed about this book. I definitely got engrossed in the mystery and kept reading hoping to find out more (except most of it clearly won’t be revealed until later in the series). I liked the romantic subplot between Devi and Rupert. There were some hints of interesting world-building.

Unfortunately, there were also some aspects that weren’t quite to my taste. I tend to zone out if an action scene goes on too long – I feel like long action scenes are better suited to movies – and this book definitely has a few long ones. It was also hard to read this book without comparing it to the DFZ series, with Devi here being a very similar character to Opal there, down to the recklessness and anthropomorphising her equipment… and I felt like the setting and the storyline were just a bit better in that series (although, in turn, I think I preferred the characterisation here). The world of this book is definitely not portrayed as vividly as the Detroit Free Zone.

Honestly though, the thing that probably cemented me giving this book three stars instead of four was the ending. After Devi gets a bit of context about what’s happening from a villain, Caldswell wants to kill her for “knowing too much”. Rupert decides instead to save her life by getting Ren to wipe her memories from the day, and instilling in her a deep, automatic revulsion to seeing him. It felt like it didn’t quite work with the first-person, past tense perspective – she fluidly goes from describing events she should have forgotten to explaining how she didn’t remember any of the events she just described – and also, I dunno, seemed a bit ill-fitting. The whole manoeuvre seemed very presumptuous on Rupert’s part – not just manipulating Devi’s mind, but also assuming he can change the facts to get the captain to cancel orders he’s aleady issued – and I don’t know what this event will mean for Devi’s character in the next instalment, but it does seem to have undermined her strength.

Overall, if you loved everything about the DFZ series and are looking for something similar, this is a reasonable choice. In my opinion, though, it doesn’t benefit from as awesome a setting, and the plot is a bit more generic and action-heavy. If you haven’t looked at the DFZ series yet I’d recommend you check that out first.

★★★

a cartoony avatar of Jessica Smith is a left-wing feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also very interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.